The MasterChef finalist Andrew Kojima has closed his Cheltenham restaurant Koj, explaining that the announcement of new Covid-19 curfew restrictions were the “final nail in the coffin”.
Writing in an impassioned post on his website, the chef said incurring the additional costs of operating a business during the coronavirus crisis was too heavy a burden, and he has instead chosen to call time on what was a respected and successful venture.
Harden’s reporters enjoyed Koj, an outpost in small town that drew punters in from afar and sustained locals admirably. Kojima opened his casual dining Japanese restaurant three years ago, immediately seeing applauding critics.
Jay Rayner praised the restaurant in The Observer for creating “a slick and confident operation, run by a team which knows what it’s doing”.
But Kojima, sadly, sees no future for the restaurant. He said social distancing measures, together with a fall in customer confidence, have hit hard.
The chef wrote: “I am immensely proud of what my team and I achieved in three years and of our own contribution towards enhancing Cheltenham’s reputation for good lifestyle: two glowing reviews in national newspapers, a clutch of awards and multiple listings in the Michelin Guide, the Good Food Guide, and Harden’s.
“While these accolades were not part of the business plan, the recognition for our hard work provided reward and an incentive to maintain and improve on our standards.
“They also gave me the drive to believe that there was unfinished business to return to once the pandemic had subsided. I felt that there was more to come.
“I have been in regular discussions with fellow restaurateurs and my accountants since we closed in March. I had budgeted for reopening costs such as restocking, Covid-19 guideline compliance and retraining.
“The prospect of incurring these costs was daunting, especially given that business continuity remained at risk through factors out of our control: a confirmed case on site, or further regional lockdowns and restrictions. Nevertheless, I had hoped that if both the virus itself and the guidelines began to stabilise, we would be able to reopen.
“The recent rise in infections has prompted the government to impose further restrictions, which could last for at least six months. They are the final nail in the coffin for any hope and fight that I had left in me.”
Kojima went on: “In opening my first restaurant, I realised a dream and expressed my passion. I followed my heart. Sadly, I have concluded that now is the time for my head to rule my heart, so that I can make a fresh start, rebuild my career and make a living to support my wife and our young children through this turbulent time, rather than add to their worries.
“Without the backing of a wealthy and optimistic investor, I cannot take the risk of incurring further losses and greater debt.”